If you are following along in the Summer Read, it would be helpful if you’ve read through Chapter V of Brobdingnag in Gulliver’s Travels.
The more I think about our journeys with Gulliver thus far, the more I’ve realized how I struggle to sympathize with the giant. Maybe it says something about my view of humanity. Even though I know we are supposed to assume the vantage point of Gulliver throughout the voyages, I just couldn’t be Gulliver the Man-mountain. I couldn’t allow myself to make everyone else the butt of the joke while I stood above them. My foolish heart is all-too-prone to prideful outbursts to allow for such an exercise. I was more drawn to the eyepiece of the Lilliputians. Maybe it says something about my view of humanity. Maybe the historical popularity of the Lilliputian story (almost to the exclusion of the next three episodes) says something about humanity.
I point this out to say I recognize that I then put forward something of an inconsistency when I so easily assume Gulliver’s vantage point on Brobdingnag. I am inclined to sympathize with the small. I’m not sure where everyone else is at this point, but I’m actually enjoying Brobdingnag more, because the goal of the voyage is to hold up that big ‘ol mirror to show Gulliver (and, by extension, you and me) how silly we and self-centered we can be.
Consider for a moment Gulliver’s reaction to the giant king’s perspective on England in Chapter III.
“This prince took a Pleasure in conversing with me, enquiring into the manners, religion, laws, government, and learning of Europe… after an hearty fit of laughing, asked me whether I were a Whig or a Tory… and thus he continued on, while my colour came and went several times, with indignation to hear our noble country… so contemptuously treated.”
Gulliver’s country, his way of living, were called into question in a mocking tone. Like any of us, he was offended… at first. He couldn’t bear the thought of his very existence being ridiculed in the hands of a giant. Gulliver takes pride in his sight, his ability to engage wisdom and reason. And now, in the shadow of a giant, it is all fair game for laughter.
BUT… Gulliver has a quick change of heart.
“I began to doubt whether I were injured or no. For, after having been accustomed several months to… these people… the horror I had first conceived from their bulk and aspect was so far worn off, that if I had then beheld a company of English Lords and Laides… acting their several parts in the most courtly manner… I should have been strongly tempted to laugh as much at them as the King and his Grandees did at me.”
Why the swift (pun intended) change of heart? Why the near instant reconsideration? Gulliver explains with comments peppered throughout this situation.
“as I was not in a condition to resent injuries…” (because of his small stature, what good would come of being offended?)
“(as) I observed every object upon which I cast my eyes to be of proportional magnitude…” (not only the people, but this world was bigger than he)
“So that I really began to imagine my self dwindled many degrees below my usual size.”
Lemuel Gulliver, through this voyage to the peninsula of the giants, had the chance to see himself as small. And the smaller he became in relation to everyone and everything, he found freedom. Freedom to laugh at himself, his culture, his history, his future. He found freedom to let go of injury when someone was picking near his heart. He found freedom to live beneath his neighbor (whereas in Lilliput, he was of the utmost significance and far above even the greatest of their nation). Even if just for awhile.
Again, there are no footnotes of epic significance in this story. Other than to clarify explicit references made in the chapters, the story stands alone, and Gulliver is made quite small.
I believe Lilliput, if read through the eyes of the Man-mountain, serves to lower our defenses and prepare us to be examined on Brobdingnag. Through those same eyes, we now get to feel small, exploited, mocked, and mistreated. But, through the efforts of a young nurse named Glumdalclitch, Gulliver also experiences the kind of love that guards the weak… even if imperfectly.
Oh, that we would all feel so small as to be humble…
… and so loved as to be lifted up.